Composer laureate draws out acoustic creativity

14th May 2004 at 01:00
Different Journeys Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Portobello High, Edinburgh Queen's Hall, Edinburgh

The Scottish Chamber Orchestra marked the first year of its Composer Laureate for Schools project with a concert of new works performed with school students at the Queen's Hall in Edinburgh.

The composer laureate, Rory Boyle, who was appointed in October 2002, has been commissioned to write three works over the course of the three-year project for young musicians to play with members of the orchestra, while working with the students on creating their own pieces.

The main focus of the project is Portobello High in Edinburgh. There Boyle has been working with 17 S3 Standard grade music students, whom he will continue to work with through to S5. His remit also includes working with Advanced Higher music students from other schools in the city and a professional development programme for their music teachers.

It is hoped that the project, run in partnership with Edinburgh's education department and partly funded by the Scottish Arts Council, will reach beyond the city via educational material that is to be posted on the Composer Laureate for Schools website.

Boyle regards his role as that of a facilitator rather than a teacher. On the evidence of this concert, he has certainly unleashed creativity in the young composers he has been guiding. The 13 pieces, by musicians from Portobello High, Liberton High, Broughton High and Wester Hailes Education Centre, shows a striking variety of acoustic imagination. None is for conventional instrumental combinations and the pupils seem to have experimented with instrumental colour and made imaginative and informed choices.

A piece for guitar, timpani and double bass has the rhythmic drive of a Renaissance dance and a beguiling dark and reedy sound. In another work, modern drumming interrupts a Brahmsian texture of horn, clarinet, violin and bassoon in a way that is quirky and witty. Several give the most melodious lines to the bassoon and cello, putting the violin and flute in supporting roles.

While many works are wistful or have a classical feel, one opens with a swinging saxophone line. Its bar room blues sound provided excellent textural contrast between the more experimental works played on either side of it.

It is often said that today's children are a film-orientated generation and it is remarkable how many of the works have an atmospheric, cinematic quality.

The pieces were scored for, and played by, various combinations of the 17 S3 musicians from Portobello High and six players from the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. Boyle's own work, Different Journeys, was scored for all the players. It seems to have been written more with the head than the heart, but it has what many of the students' pieces lack: structure.

Each of its three sections deals with one particular aspect of music: harmony, melody or rhythm. The first is an intentionally mundane musical reflection of daily living; the second is slow and dark; the third has rhythmical vigour and a clearer tonality.

A more sophisticated set of pieces would have sat better next to those from his students, but that may yet come. Boyle will write two more works for the project; one will be played next spring by the Portobello High and Scottish Chamber Orchestra musicians. The final one will be for the Edinburgh Secondary Schools Orchestra and full SCO and will be performed in April 2006 alongside more compositions by the pupils.

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